I had the good fortune of seeing a few of Lori Tremblay's paintings at Greenhut Galleries minutes after viewing Noriko Sakanishi's "Elements" exhibition of constructed paintings and drawings at June Fitzpatrick Gallery. Together, they make for an intensely interesting and revealing comparison of Eastern and Western ideas about geometrical form.
Sakanishi's abstract work is steeped in Japanese ideas about symmetry and legibility, many of which are readily available to us via Minimalism. But the Japanese far outpace the minimalist mantra, "What you see is what you see."
Sakanishi's work speaks directly to your sensibilities, unlike the heady, intellectual prescriptions of Minimalists Sol Lewitt or Frank Stella. Sakanishi's warmly organic finish and softened edges hint of an encounter with the human spirit.
While Minimalist symmetry stripped art of subjectivity, Sakanishi's symmetry provides containers for the vital energy of living things rather than math.
In "New Light," a black four-inch ball peeks over the edge of a slender, vertical box mounted on the wall. It pulses with potential energy but comfortably forces you to consider the drop path, the base and the floor where the ball would fall.
"Drops" is a set of three boxes. Each is about 1 foot tall and 4 inches deep, painted neutrally with a sandy matte finish and mounted on the wall in succession. They have one, two and three grooves, respectively, that travel from central holes in the boxes through the top edges.
As Westerners, our initial instinct is to read these left to right and top to bottom, but the lines flow upward and out of the box. Also, the left box is reddish, as opposed to the gray-green of the others. "Drops" flows upward and to the left, like Japanese writing, and trickles back and forth with your expectations.
My favorite works in "Elements" are Sakanishi's drawings. Handsomely sophisticated, they defy our desires to read left to right/top down with their rhythmically musical pulses. They exude life – and the large ones remind me of Bach.
Sakanishi's collages are tiny gems that synthesize her bifurcated world. They bring together bits of kimono textiles with delicious scraps of painting. In "Baxter Boulevard," we find a patch of fine Japanese cloth next to printed calligraphy, both of which are surrounded by painted elements, including a sweetly surprising detail cut from a print of Van Gogh's "Starry Night."
Just walking into Sakanishi's show feels like having a wave of calming balance wash over you. Yet the works come alive with powerful, flowing energy. This seems largely due to the Eastern sense of symmetry that mobilizes energy as a source of balance and clarity.
Tremblay's geometry, on the other hand, is carved from Western culture and philosophy. She specifically references the five Platonic solids thought to make up the four elements and heaven.
Tremblay's gorgeously painted surfaces are so densely saturated, and her lines are so taut, that they bristle with an energy she can only seem to bridle with geometrically sculptural frames. But her symmetry relates to mathematical ideals, not organic logic.
Each work is based on one of the five possible "regular solids" such as "Fire," the tetrahedron (a pyramid of four identical triangles) that Tremblay presents in writhing red, seething with the dynamism Plato ascribed to this fundamental form. "Water" is a calm, blue and symmetrically stable form floating front and center.
Plato – a universally acknowledged philosophical pillar of Western society – had a sign above the entrance to his Academy (the first university) that read "Let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors."
For Plato, ideals such as geometry are what exist eternally (as opposed to ephemeral materiality). Geometry, he wrote in "The Republic," draws "the soul towards truth and gives the finishing touch to the philosophic spirit."
But because Plato saw painting as a material imitation of an ephemeral thing, he described it as "the worthless mistress of a worthless friend, and the parent of a worthless progeny." (I am not sure I like this Plato guy.)
This begs the questions: Are Tremblay's paintings abstract? Are they interpretive illustrations of Plato's ideal forms – and not paintings?
I like the confident curiosity and the intelligent elegance of both Tremblay's and Sakanishi's geometrically-based work. Both are extremely handsome, well-finished and likeable. Both graciously appeal to your sensibilities and raise questions in a constructive, exciting fashion.
I wonder what Plato would think.